N.C. Mascot Education & Action Group (NCMEAG)
PO Box 18640, Asheville, North Carolina 28814
828-669-6677 fax: 828-669-8862 firstname.lastname@example.org
November 11, 2003
Mr. Steve Hodgin, Principal
Southern Guilford High School
57 Drake Road
Greensboro, NC 27406
Dear Mr Hodgin:
Thank you for talking with me over the phone last week when I was in Greensboro for the National Indian Education Association's national convention. You were obviously sincere in your explanation and your belief that Southern Guilford High's "Indian" mascot is handled with dignity and that the school is "honoring" Indians by its use of this mascot. It was also good to meet you briefly at the SGHS-Owen game Friday night. As I told you my son goes to Owen, and I hadn't realized until I read Friday's paper that Owen's opponent was SGHS.
I learned from American Indian participants at the NIEA mascot workshop in Greensboro that the conversation I had with you is being been repeated almost verbatim with school administrators across this country Your words from earlier in the week have stayed with me and prompted me to think through the whole question of "honoring." I find myself asking questions, and remembering questions I have heard American Indian educators ask. Below is a compilation of those questions. Please understand that in sharing these questions with you, I am not singling you or Southern Guilford out, but singling out an attitude and, what I conclude is, an often unwitting misrepresentation of reality.
"Honoring" American Indians: Questions for Educators
Why, if the intention is to "honor," are non-Indian schools themselves not named, more often, after Indian leaders? Why is it just the schools' mascots that are so named?
If having an Indian mascot is a way of "honoring" Indians, why are not other entire racial groups scrambling to be so honored? The Southern Guilford Blacks? The Southern Guilford Whites? The Southern Guilford Chinese? Why do those mascot names sound ridiculous and the Southern Guilford Indians not?
Would the suggestion that Southern Guilford's mascot become the "Zulu Warriors" be an acceptable way of honoring Africans or African-Americans? Or would such a suggestion be seen as an insult?
If the Notre Dame "fighting Irish" dressed up their leprechaun mascot with a Pope-like hat and waved Crosses after touchdowns, would that be a way of "honoring" the Irish Catholic heritage? Why then, is it acceptable to employ sacred Indian religious iconography and imagery like the feather, the drum, the paint, and the flame in a mascot sporting event?
Is it possible that there's a subconscious cultural pathology involved in White people who decimated Indian culture turning around and making them and their culture a mascot for sporting events? Is making Indians into one-dimensional mascots a not-so-subtle way of further humiliating Indians while using the language of "honor"-thereby even adding to the pathology? And have we been doing this so long, we don't even see, ourselves, the big picture of what we are doing?
What if a German high school had an Hasidic Jew as its mascot., and the other team had signs saying 'Gas the Jews?' Why is such a suggestion so outrageous and impossible to imagine and yet our White high schools do just the equivalent? Why are "Wipe out the Warriors" "Relocate the Warriors" and other such signs we have documented acceptable in an educational institution's sport setting?
Why, if the intention is to "honor" Indian heritage is that same heritage put into the position of being dishonored by the opposing team and fans at a sporting event? Do other teams "honor" the Southern Guilford "Indian" mascot with the same sincerity you do? Would you put your family treasures and traditions into a situation where others would want to make fun of them or ridicule them? Would you do it with your neighbor's family treasures and traditions?
Why is the term "honor" used with Indian mascots but not with Mustangs, Bears, Rockets, and the myriad of other mascots in NC public schools? Was my own high school, Myers Park in Charlotte, "honoring" the Mustangs? Or were we counting on the strength and uncontrollable fierceness of the Mustang image to galvanize students and athletes to defeat the other school's team? Isn't the premise upon which a mascot is chosen based more on expressing one's power to defeat the opponent than to 'honor' the mascot itself. (Clearly, because we all identify with our mascots, we develop a school pride surrounding them, whatever they are-but that is different from really deciding to find a way to "honor" someone or someone's culture.)
Is it possible that the use of the term "honoring" is simply a way to delude oneself into thinking that taking someone else's culture and trivializing it at a sporting event is acceptable? Do your students integrate into the school's life and curriculum the study of Indian sovereignty issues, US abrogation of treaty obligations, forced removals, Wounded Knee, or the long trail of suffering we who make them our mascots exacted on Indians?
Is it possible that the fact that "Indians" are used so often as mascots while other racial groups are not, is simply a reflection of modern day White privilege exercising its majority power over a small, relatively powerless minority?
If one is truly "honoring" Indians by using their imagery as a sport mascot, why does that "honoring" not extend to hearing the representative Indian organizations express the desire not to be stereotyped as violent and "savage" and not to have their sacred culture used for fun and games? Where is the "honoring" in turning a deaf ear to these concerns?
Is not the real purpose of a mascot to put fear in the opponent, provide the fans with a means for creaming the opponent
How is it not paternalistic to say one is "honoring" Indians by using "Indian" mascots when the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs and the N.C. Advisory Council on Indian Education have stated clearly that such use of Indian imagery and logos in public school mascots is offensive and harmful to Indian students?
How can one defend using an "Indian" mascot by pointing to approval by a single Indian student or a single Indian teacher when the Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Education Association, the Society of Indian Psychologists, and many other Tribal organizations have urged educators to re-think and retire these images? Are we not simply using those individuals as an excuse for avoiding change we don't want to make? American Indians are not a monolith of thinking. You can find Indians who aren't bothered by Indian mascots, but as educators should we not be looking at the big picture and giving honor to key state and national representative Indian organizations?
Is there an element of arrogance in non-Indian educators saying they know better than the NC Advisory Council on Indian Education what is "honoring" Indian culture and what is best for making our schools welcoming places for American Indians and healthy places for non-Indians to learn about American Indian culture?
Is it not patronizing for us to pretend to be "honoring" Indian culture when, in fact, every aspect of an "Indian" mascot usage insults and trivializes that very culture? Are we not using "honoring" as a fig leaf for appropriating a culture to use even disrespectfully for our own ends?
If it is truly about "honoring," how can we get ourselves to think out of the box and beyond the cultural woodwork we grew up with in which the media, sports, and commerce stereotype American Indians and their culture?
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Mr. Hodgin, I hope that you will find these questions useful as discussion-starters with your students, faculty, and parents. Please know that we would be glad to help with references to educational materials and/or by facilitating a workshop on the issue for staff development.
When I attended the SGHS-Owen football game, I sat the first half in your stands. I saw that you have removed Indian imagery from player and cheerleader uniforms and from helmets, though I did see headdresses with feathers on some hats and shirts in the stands and on school officials on the bench. The cheerleaders were enthusiastic, disciplined, and spirited, but, I did not sense "honor" for Indians anywhere, certainly not in cheers like "Attack, Indians, Attack" or hearing the announcer say, "the ball is now on the Indians' 46 yard line." I heard stereotyping and trivializing. Not only are students becoming inured to such cultural disrespect, they are missing out on the goofy fun that should accompany a mascot. The need to walk a fine line in what you allow robs the students of some fun, and even then the disrespect is palpable to an observer. Barbara Munson, an Oneida educator from Wisconsin who organized the NIEA workshop, has said that schools with "Indian" mascots are "giving their students a four-year course in racism."
I also visited SGHS's web site and noted the lack, for the most part, of Indian imagery. But the Homecoming photo section appears to give a window into how Indian culture is treated at SGHS, especially the pictures of, I believe, you in a faux headdress and regalia and students with face paint spelling out "Indians." Yes, Homecoming should be a time to be goofy, but is it not impossible to be goofy with someone else's sacred spirituality without being disrespectful?
Your web site also reflects the excellent academic performance of SGHS and it's many accomplishments. I note the motto, "Where the best get better." I think this issue of the "Indian" school mascot provides a challenge and an opportunity to do just that with guidance from the schools' educators and administrators.
Our display, "It's Only Game?" which was at the NIEA convention and featured on the 6 o'clock Channel 2 news that night is now in the Guilford College library. I hope you will consider taking small groups of student leaders and faculty to see it.
Thank you again for your attention and please know we'd welcome a chance to meet and work with you, your staff, and students.
cc: Dr. Terry B. Grier, GCPS Superintendent, with thanks, too, for our conversation over the phone while I was in Greensboro. I hope you will share these questions with the Board and encourage them to visit the exhibit at the Guilford College library. Thank you.